Thursday, 29 August 2013

Reserve Releases

We have had a very good year this year for breeding, and many animals are in line to be released in to the wild at some stage in their future.

Earlier this week we released another batch of animals out on to our nature reserve.

Our harvest mice have been on top form this summer, and on Tuesday we released our third group out on to our reserve. As far as I am aware, no members of the public have see them out there, but during an early morning stroll I have on occasion seen one or two climbing through the grasses looking out for an early snack.

The other animal we release on to the reserve are water voles. As I explained last year, we use these special pens to "soft release" them in to their new habitat. Over the end of last year, and early this year they have been brilliant... and bred once again earlier this year, and early summer.

On Tuesday we opened up the water vole release pens to allow a further ten individuals to explore the reserve. We are hoping that this will add fresh genes to the population, while encouraging them to spread up the stream.

We ask visitors to let us know when they see a water vole down on the reserve, and it is not often a day goes by with out a sighting. So be patient, spend a bit of time down there, and you may get to see a real wild water vole in action!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Kendra's Kittens

At the risk of turning this in to a Wildcat blog, here is a short clip of Kendra's kittens out having a play.

Kendra had three kittens earlier this year, and over the past couple of days they have really started to get a little bolder and have an explore... with mum close by of course!

Kendra is a great mum, and I will try to get some better photographs of her kittens for you over the coming weeks.

For those that would like to see some more kitten photographs, have a look at my sister blog by clicking on the picture of me a the top right of this page. Here I will post a few of Iona's kittens from time to time to keep this blog a bit more varied.

Now I promise not to post another photo or video of a wildcat on this blog for at least the rest of the week!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Iona's Kittens

Another quick update on Iona's kittens which we separated from Macavity and Iona a few days a go. After an initial spell of uncertainty, realising they still had each other, they have settled extremely quickly. They are even coming out for our keeper talks already and I think they are enjoying exploring their larger enclosure.

They have been sexed as two males and a female, and so now we have the job of naming them. Not an easy task with six keepers to keep happy.

Keep an eye open for them in our main pen... they look quite small in there at the moment while they are still young, but it won't be long till they have grown and look like proper wildcats.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Iona's Kitten Update

Yesterday evening we moved Iona's wildcat kittens out of her pen, and in to their own enclosure opposite. They are at the age now where they are independent and can happily live on their own... in fact Iona has pretty much ignored them for the past couple of weeks, and even Macavity was beginning to get a little fed up with the occasional swipe aimed in the kittens direction!

Seperating the kittens is not a fun job to do, but it has to be done. We caught up all three individually, and while we had them restained in a net we had our vet microchip them, give them their flu jab, confirm their sex and take a hair sample to be sent off for DNA testing.

While we were in the enclosure with the net, we also caught up Iona to take a blood sample to be sent of for DNA testing, Macavity having already been done whilst at Wildwood.

We then took all three kittens and released them in to their new enclosure. Give them a few days to settle down, and you will be able to see them in the wildcat pen opposite the enclosure they were in.

In another month or two, we will have to repeat the process with Kendra and her kittens.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you... Iona's kittens were two males and a female!

Friday, 16 August 2013

Mole on TV

Our new mole came to us as a film star, and is set to make his debut appearance on TV tonight.!

At 9pm on BBC2, a new three part series starts all about the life of animals underground. It looks to be really interesting, and promises to show unique footage of rabbits, badgers and moles and how they spend their time underground.

A lot of this was filmed at the West Country Photograph Centre, where purpose built warrens, dens and setts were built for the cast to live in over the course of a year. We have close links with the WCPC, and have donated animals to them in the past and vice versa... including our newest arrival, the mole!

Our new mole has settled extremely well in our hedgerow display, and was one of the moles used for filming for this new series. If you have the time, why not check out the program tonight.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Mammal Tracking

We often get asked to help out with some research work, be it collecting water vole droppings for people to compare them with field vole droppings, testing harvest mice feeders for use in the wild to see which ones best collect their droppings or sending of pine marten scats in the post for dog training in the use of surveying wild populations... come to think of it, it normally always means droppings in some way or another.

Recently we were asked to help with a tracking project by Woodcraft School, near Midhurst. Woodcraft School are an organisation which provide bushcraft courses and skills, and they wanted to try and collect tracks of all the British mammals. Since this was an interesting project, which didn't involve droppings, I thought I would share it with you.

Two main methods were employed for collecting the tracks. For the larger mammals, they provided us with moon sand. A very light sand that would take the impression of a paw print when the animal walked over it... see Lilly the otter ably demonstrating this in the photo at the top of this page! This worked quite well, but was very delicate. Casts could not be taken and so a photo record was needed.

For the smaller mammals which didn't have the weight to leave an impression in the moon sand, we were provided with board, paper and animal friendly paint. The idea behind this was to provide an "ink" pad for the animal to walk over, before walking over the paper and thus leaving their footprints behind.

Over the course of a few days we were able to collect prints for all the mammals from harvest mice up to foxes. Hopefully Woodcraft School will be able to use these as teaching aids, and we have left it open to the possibility of taking it a stage further and developing the techniques to build up a collection of accurate prints for all British mammals over the Winter.

 So, what do you think?.. Any ideas what the prints above and the ink print below are?..

Oh yeah... Woodcraft School also wanted a sample of droppings from all our mammals too... I thought droppings would come in to it somewhere!

Friday, 9 August 2013

Red Squirrel Kittens

Our red squirrels have done well this year, and we have managed to expand our group of holders to help spread out the squirrels we have breeding.

Later this year, owner David Mills will be sending out 20 of our red squirrels to join the few we released at the end of last year on the Isle of Tresco. There it is hoped that they can begin to form a self-sustaining population with a little help from the residents and our breeding colony.

In the meantime, it seems our red squirrel kittens are just beginning to get bold enough to venture out further than before, and this little one in particular is the star at many a keeper talk!

If you come to see him, you will instantly recognise him... he is obviously a youngster, and has a few white wisps to his tail at the tip.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Hedgehog; British National Emblem

A couple of months ago you may remember I let you know about the vote that the BBC Wildlife Magazine was having on an animal to be the National emblem for Britain.

Well, the results are in, and last week it was announced that the hedgehog won the public vote with a staggering 42% of the cast votes, out of ten different species! You could say that was pretty unanimous!

So what makes our British hedgehog so great?, he is a reminder of a post I made a year ago...

 - The hedgehog species is believed to have been around for over 10 million years

 - The name is thought to have come from it's late night habits of foraging through hedges whilst emitting a pig-like grunt

 - The males are called boars, females sows and babies hoglets

 - They have around 5,000 hollow spines or "quills", each lasting about a year before dropping out and being replaced by a new one

 - When first born they have only a few spines, which are soft and reside just under the skin 

 - Often called the "gardeners friend", as there diet consists largely of common garden pests

 - Hedgehogs are mildly intolerant to lactose, so please do not feed them bread and milk!

 - Hedgehogs are known for being flea-ridden, often carrying up to 500 fleas, of course the ones at the BWC are treated and so are flea free

 - When stimulated by a strong smell they often self-anoint, tasting the new smell and then licking their spines with a foamy saliva... no one is sure the reason behind why they do this?

 - During hibernation a hedgehogs heartbeat will drop from 190 beats per minute to around only 20bpm!

 - Surprisingly hedgehogs can swim, climb walls and...

 - They can run up to 4.5mph! Not bad for a little ball of spikes

The great shame about this is that our hedgehogs are in sharp decline... no longer are they a part of our staple wildlife that many people think... we need to act now to try and save the hedgehog.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Playful Stoats

I have been extremely busy over the past week with an exciting new project, more news on that in a week or so, but for today... have I got a treat of a post for you!

Our stoat babies, bred in the hedgerow display, are now around 12 weeks old and are great fun to watch playing. The video above is a 2 minute clip of them chasing each other around one of the areas of their enclosure, and pouncing on each other. Take a look if you have time, it really is great fun to watch!

This is one of the kits, I think a female but not confirmed it yet. The other is definitely a male though, and a real character... he also has very white legs and chest, unusual but very handsome.

If you like the footage above, but want something more professionally filmed then try out these two videos below. The first is a National Geographic sequence on the stoat using it's "hypnotising" movements to help in a hunt, some of it need to be watched with a pinch of salt.

The second does show some scenes that may be disturbing if you don't like seeing animals hunting, but is one of my "favouritist" bits of British wildlife footage I have seen, and why I have included it here to share... narrated by David Attenborough.